Archive for the Voting Category

Westminster Should Consider Approval Voting

I read in the January 25 Westsider that the Westminster City Council is considering eliminating run-off elections for mayor:

If the top candidate does not receive 40 percent [under the current system], the top two candidates face off against each other during a run-off election. This process requires a second election, costing about $100,000. . . . Resident Tim Kauffman told council [at a January 14 meeting] the run-off election is important because the mayor position needs widespread community support.

The council will decide the measure to eliminate the run-off election on January 28, the paper reports.

But the city could avoid both problems—a costly run-off and a low-popularity mayor—simply by instituting approval voting, a process I wrote about a couple years ago.

Here’s how it would work. For the mayor’s election, voters would see all the candidates’ names on the ballot. Voters could vote for one or more of these candidates—as many as they “approved” of. Then the candidate with the highest vote total wins.

This guarantees that the winner has broad support, yet it saves the cost and hassle of a run-off election. What’s not to like?

New Group Seeks Voter Integrity

At Monday’s Liberty On the Rocks Flatirons event, Jeff Kelly discussed his new group, “Colorado Voter Protection.”

Kelly said his group’s goals are three-fold: first, to clean up the voter rolls; second, to “recruit and deploy honest, trained poll watchers”; and, third, to prevent voter fraud.

Regarding that last point, Kelly said he’d like to see legislation requiring the verification of citizenship, minimizing mailed ballots, and requiring voter identification.

Gessler Addresses Anonymous, Verifiable Voting

Secretary of State Scott Gessler discussed the standards of anonymous, verifiable voting when I interviewed him at the Independence Institute’s annual banquet. He said that, while current practices are “solid,” potential improvements in technology might further improve the system.

For additional videos from the II’s banquet, see also:

Kopel: ObamaCare Mandates Unconstitutional

Independence Institute Banquet

Why Voting Integrity Requires Proof Positive

Recently I wrote, ”Mailing out ballots to inactive voters is an open invitation to voter fraud.”

This prompted leftist gadfly Alan Franklin to reply in a series of Twitter posts, “[I]f mailing ballots to inactives is ‘an open invitation to voter fraud,’ I assume you have… evidence of that? … Because if you have no evidence… you’re just another clown using baseless scare tactics. You know that, right?” He further claimed that I’m using “baseless scare tactics to stop ballots from going to voters” and “[t]echnicalities to suppress voting.”

This is a serious topic that deserves serious consideration (as opposed to Franklin’s ad hominem attacks).

The principle involved here is that the onus of proof lies on the one making an assertion. So if someone were to falsely accuse Franklin of theft, he could sensibly reply, “You have no evidence that I’ve committed theft; therefore, your accusation is groundless.”

Does a voting system likewise require positive proof of fraud before that system may be declared unsound and prone to fraud? No. The difference is that voting is the positive evidence required for an election result, and that positive evidence must be collected and presented according to reasonable standards of integrity.

To return to the example of falsely accusing someone of theft, imagine the following discussion:

Ben: “You are a thief”
Alan “No, I’m not. You have no evidence of that, and you are lying.”
Ben: “But you have no evidence that I’m lying, so therefore you are a thief!”

The problem is that Ben bears the burden of proving that Alan is a thief. Ben cannot throw the burden of proof back onto Alan.

Likewise, the voting system bears of burden of proving which candidate (or side) earned the specified number of votes. One cannot reasonably accept just any system of voting based on the claim, “Well, you have no evidence there’s anything wrong with this system.” Voting requires positive evidence that it yields accurate results.

Imagine some different scenarios that illustrate this principle.

In Country P, the dictator says, “I am the rightful ruler of this country, because the people support me!” If a critic were to answer, “There’s no good reason to think the people support you; why not throw the question up for a fair and open election?” What we we say if the dictator answered, “I know my people, and I know they support me. You have no evidence that there’s anything fraudulent about my claim, you clown!”

But let’s say we could persuade the dictator that an actual vote by the reasonably qualified electorate would better determine which leader has the majority’s support. The dictator says, “I have collected all the ballots, and I have counted them myself, and I am the clear winner.” If the critic were to reply, “It’s not good enough for you to count the ballots yourself, because you have a strong incentive to miscount or ‘lose’ the ballots you don’t like. Therefore, the ballots must be counted in an open and verifiable way.” Again we would not be persuaded if the dictator replied, “You have no evidence that my vote count is flawed, you clown!”

Let’s switch the scenario to something more like our actual system. Suppose the Secretary of State issued the following proclamation: “I am standing up to the opposition’s voter suppression machine! I want to ensure that every qualified voter has an opportunity to cast a ballot. Therefore, I am mailing ten copies of the ballot to every residential address in Colorado, to ensure there are plenty of ballots to go around to all qualified voters. Moreover, people can also walk into my office, without any identification (because demanding ID would make me part of the voter suppression machine!), and request all the extra ballots they may need for themselves and others they know who are qualified voters.”

A critic might argue, “But, Secretary, such a system would be an open invitation to fraud!” What would we think of a Secretary who answered, “You have no evidence that such a system would result in fraud, you clown!” It would quickly become clear which party more closely resembles a clown.

A voting system requires positive proof that only qualified voters cast ballots, and that each voter casts only one ballot per election. You can’t just mail out ballots to everybody in the state. You can’t just let everybody wander in off the streets to vote, without identification.

Mailing ballots to inactive voters clearly fails the test of voting integrity. Often voters become inactive because they move out of state. Mailing ballots to those old addresses, absent any additional evidence that the voter actually lives there, is just asking for fraud. Setting up a system of voting that easily allows fraud is stupid and contrary to the very purpose of voting.

(Remember that inactive voters easily can reactivate themselves.)

Indeed, I worry that the entire strategy of mailing out ballots invites fraud. How many elderly voters get a little “help” from their activist grandchildren? How many people cast ballots that aren’t actually theirs? We do not know. It is impossible to know. And the absence of proof of voting integrity is the problem.

If we are going to maintain the system of mailed ballots, at least that system must include basic safeguards to prevent the worst and most obvious invitations to fraud.

Far better is to return to the polling place. (Note that there could even be a roving polling facility for the physically incapacitated.) Then voters can show their ID at the door. It’s clear that one voter casts one vote by his or her choice. That provides positive proof that the election is fair. Would that result in fewer people voting? Probably. But if you can’t be bothered to put in the minimal effort required to ensure voting integrity, seriously do you have any businesses helping to determine the future of our civilization?

Left Targets Gessler for Protecting Voting Integrity

Mailing out ballots to inactive voters is an open invitation to voter fraud. There’s no telling who’s going to receive and submit the ballot.

Therefore, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler sensibly told Denver and Pueblo Counties that they should follow Colorado law and not mail ballots to inactive voters.

In response to Gessler’s protection of voting integrity, the left has waged a full-scale smear campaign against him, accusing him of racism and disenfranchisement. This is a major leftist strategy for the 2012 elections: smear all Republicans, conservatives, Tea Partiers, and free-market activists as racists, in order to raise sympathy support for Obama. It is a nasty, mean-spirited, intellectually dishonest tactic. If you want to understand why the left does this, read the article I coauthored on Saul Alinsky and Obama.

One basic issue is how an “inactive” voter can become “reactivated.” It turns out it’s trivially easy.

I called Andrew Cole about this; he is a spokesman for Gessler’s office.(Michael Sandoval has also written a bit about this issue.)

Cole said, “To become inactive, you have to have missed a general election, not responded to at least one follow-up postcard from your county clerk, and not voted in any subsequent elections such as a municipal election.”

So how does an inactive voter reactivate? Cole explained, “You can physically visit your clerk’s office, you can go to GoVoteColorado.com and with a state ID card activate your status online, and you could also write a letter to your clerk, but you’d have to have a signature to verify who you were.”

In addition, a previously inactive voter can get a ballot from the clerk directly “up until and including election day.”

So this is pretty simple: if you have not voted in a recent election, and if you have not bothered to reply to your clerk’s postcard, you can easily reactivate yourself online or by visiting or writing your clerk. Surely that’s not too much to ask of those determining the future of the free world.

While he was on the phone, I also asked Cole about the controversy surrounding military voters.

Cole said that issue arose in Pueblo County under clerk Bo Ortiz. Cole said Ortiz asked the Secretary of State’s office about the matter only this week.

According to Cole, Gessler’s office told Ortiz that he “can’t mail ballots to inactive voters.” However, he “should have resolved this issue weeks ago.” Cole said there are 80 inactive military voters listed in Pueblo County, and Ortiz has email contacts for 64 of them. In Cole’s words, Gessler’s office told Ortiz’s office this week, “You should immediately email all 64″ with known emails and send postcards to the rest. Moreover, Ortiz “should have done that weeks ago.”

Cole summarized, “We’re asking Peublo County to follow the law, just like we’re asking Denver to follow the law.”

Apparently following the law is not a concept the left easily wraps its collective head around. Instead, the left would rather play the politics of smear and character assassination.

Denver Mayor Race Illustrates Benefits of Approval Voting

As of this writing, the top four candidates in the Denver race for mayor show the following vote totals:

Chris Romer: 28.5%
Michael Hancock: 27.1%
James Mejia: 25.7%
Doug Linkhart: 9.4%

The Denver Post reports, “If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the May 3 election, the top two vote-getters advance to a June 7 runoff.”

But if you think about it, that’s a pretty foolish way to run an election. For example, what if Linkhart’s voters prefer Mejia over the other two? Too bad: Mejia is out (assuming the percentages hold). Or what if the voters of either Romer or Hancock far preferred Mejia over the alternative? Again, the outcome will be that a less-favored candidate will win anyway.

In addition, holding a runoff vote costs taxpayers more money (and taxes their patience as well).

The way to solve both problems — to pick the most-favored candidate and to do it with a single vote — is to institute approval voting. The basic idea is that voters can cast more than one vote. For instance, you could vote for Romer only, Linkhart and Romer, Romer and Hancock, or whatever other combination of candidates you think you could live with.

As it stands, chances are pretty good that the next Denver mayor will not be the candidate with the most support among the voters, though we’ll never really know. Even if the results turn out “right” in this case, inevitably the less-favored candidate will win in certain other races. I can think of lots of good reasons to institute approval voting, and no good reason not to.

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Anonymous commented May 4, 2011 at 9:20 AM
Great post.

http://www.electology.org/approval-voting

Anonymous commented May 6, 2011 at 6:04 PM
Why not prioritize by a 1 – 2 – 3 – 4? And maybe a NOTA?

Ari commented May 6, 2011 at 6:16 PM
One important reason not to let voters rank candidates is that it would be hard to process. If the numbers were hand-written, that would inevitably lead to disputes about the intended meaning of the handwriting. Plus, what if a voter did something like assign two #1s? A digital system also would be complicated. I suppose you could do it in waves: “Who is your first choice candidate, if any?” Then, of those remaining, “Who is your second choice candidate, if any?” And so on.

There’s another potentially important problem with rank (or instant-runoff) voting: a candidate who is broadly liked, who is everybody’s first or second choice, can get eliminated in the first round. I explain this here: http://blog.ariarmstrong.com/2011/01/atwood-pitches-approval-voting.html